Bake Off: How Prue Leith can avoid crashing and burning like Chris Evans on Top Gear 

Prue Leith is rumoured to be taking on Mary Berry's Bake Off mantle
Prue Leith is rumoured to be taking on Mary Berry's Bake Off mantle Credit: Kirsty O'Connor

Prue Leith has said she wouldn't want to "do a Chris Evans" if she were to step into Mary Berry's shoes as a judge on the Great British Bake Off

Leith is reportedly set to sign a deal for a rumoured £200,000 to join Paul Hollywood as a Bake Off judge when the programme moves to Channel 4, which would be nearly three times the amount received by Berry to do the original show.

Leith has confirmed she would like to do it but hasn't yet signed any contract Credit: PA

Speaking at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards, the Great British Menu judge confirmed she had not yet signed any contract, but would love to do it. "I hope to have it - I have no idea if I will," she said.

"Of course I [want the job]. There's not a cook in the country who doesn't want to do that job. It'd be lovely.

"It's a bit scary following Mary, but I don't want to do a Chris Evans."

You can understand her trepidation. Recent history tells us that reboots of old favourites don't always go smoothly. The new Top Gear crashed and burned last year, with front man Evans announcing he was stepping down after just six episodes, after viewing figures plummeted to an all-time low and critics scorned his efforts.

For Top Gear super fans, there is a rather long list of reasons why it didn't work - top of it being Evans himself. So what could Leith learn from his mistakes?

1. Get the tone right

Rory Reid, Matt LeBlanc, Chris Evans in the Top Gear reboot last year Credit: Jeff Spicer

One of the things that wound Top Gear fans up about the reboot was Evans's "yapping". While his boundless energy works when waking up Radio 2 listeners of a morning, it wasn't necessarily welcome on TV, with critics calling him "shrill and shouty" and "hyperactive". 

Clearly, there is nothing shouty about Bake Off. Even during a crisis like "custardgate" of 2013, the tension barely rose above a sideways glance and a sharp intake of breath. But there is a fear among fans that the move to Channel 4 will make the whole thing far more lairy than the relaxed, demure show we're accustomed to. Leith can help to temper this with her natural ease in front of the camera.

2. Nail the banter 

Le Blanc and Evans were rumoured not to get along Credit: Mark Yeoman

Mel and Sue always led the hard comedy on Bake Off. But viewers also loved the chemistry between Paul and Mary and the way they gently mocked each other. It's vital that some sort of chemistry exist between the judges.

With the Top Gear reboot, one critic wrote that "the banter felt dead on arrival". The three-way dynamic of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May had been lost, and in its place was a clash of personalities between American Matt Le Blanc and Evans.

Prue has had practice in this area. She was a rose between two thorns on Great British Menu, providing some welcome common sense and light-heartedness when sitting in between Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort at the judging table.

Leith is also far less staid than Mary Berry, having written romance novels on top of her huge range of cookbooks. 

3. It's not all about you

Mary and Paul shared a particular kind of banter which will be hard to replicate Credit: Mark Bourdillon

Evans was slammed for bringing an unwelcome amount of ego to the new Top Gear (baffling, really, when you consider who his predecessor was). One critic commented that he "projected the sense that he was doing the viewers a favour by being there," which clearly didn't go down well.

Leith is just not the sort. Nevertheless, if anyone could make a person rise to the bait like a freshly made dough, it's Paul Hollywood. Part of her job will be to keep him in check and provide a balance to his self-confidence, just as Mary did.

4. Brush off publicity

Te weeks and months leading up to the relaunch of Top Gear were rife with rumours of tension Credit: The Mega Agency

The weeks and months leading up to the Bake Off reboot are bound to be rife with rumours of tension behind the scenes, presenters not getting on, producers threatening to leave. Whether or not any of it turns out to be true, Leith and the new team will just have to rise above it.

Before Evans's Top Gear had even arrived on our screens, it had fought off outrage after Le Blanc was filmed doing doughnuts around the Cenotaph and rumours of showdowns between staff. The show arrived under a cloud and it affected the launch. 

The new Bake Off  team will need to ensure a smooth transition, or they'll be eaten alive by super fans already heralding their failure.

5. Prove you know your stuff

Leith has over 55 years of experience in the food world Credit: Andrew Crowley

At 77, Leith has over 55 years of experience in the food world. She and her team at Leith's School of Food and Wine have taught generations of chefs to cook. So she isn't exactly a lightweight. 

Admittedly, she is not known for her baking - Mary's Victoria sandwich might well be lighter - but that doesn't mean she doesn't know her stuff.

She also famously doesn't go in for "fizzles and foams", so whether or not she will be won over by the elaborate showstoppers (that often hide a multitude of sins in terms of technique and flavour) remains to be seen.

6. Don't be wacky

Mary Berry, Prue Leith And Jack De Manio take part in an egg tasting test Credit: REX

What Top Gear fans really objected to was the difference in style between Evans and Clarkson.

Leith is in a tricky position because if she is going to take on Berry's crown, she has got to be different without rocking the boat. One sure fire way to annoy longtime Bake Off viewers would be to haul contestants over the hot coals. Hollywood is there for the home truths and Leith would act as his foil. 

She'd be wise to do is to adopt her own version of the Mary Berry code:

  • "The flavours are very interesting" = "This is far too spicy for me,"
  • Quietly splutters, while trying to smile  = "This is the driest biscuit I've ever eaten".
  • "It looks most tempting" = "It's a bit basic".